Tribute to S. T. Sivanayagam: editor, guru and father

S.T. Sivanayagam, a giant and champion of Tamil journalism for more than half a century, passed away after making an immense contribution in the political, social, educational and economic fields. S. T. as he was popularly known was indeed a quiet and humble saint, saint in journalism. He was the guru of scores of journalists, working today in top positions in the press, radio and TV. Many of them were at Kanatte last Monday to say farewell and thank you to their mentor, guide and friend. The story of S.T.Sivanayagam and his contribution to journalism from the hot metal period of the fifties to the high tech internet era are indeed unpara-lelled if not unique. Starting at a time when printing was a primitive or laborious task with smudges all over and little or nor colour, S. T. Siv-anayagam was still able to build a wide circulation for the newspapers he edited, sometimes producing what his colleagues and staff saw as magical or mystical methods. During the past fifty years we have seen three eras in printing- the hand-setting period, the linotype era and the current computer offset printing. S. T. Sivanayagam was one of the few journalists who blazed their way through all three eras, maintaining the highest principles and the highest standards of integrity whatever the printing methods were. In the hand-setting era S. T. Sivanayagam was the editor of the Sud-anthiran, the official organ of the Federal Party. But the master journalist with a broad vision turned it into a powerful voice of the Tamil people, especially those who were voiceless or marginalised.

In the linotype era S. T. Sivanayagam moved to the Independent Newspapers Group where with D. B. Dhanapala – the doyen of modern journalism – he launched and built up the daily Dinapathi and the weekly Chintamani as the Chief Editor. His flare for creativity and imaginative journalism was outstanding and many were the young reporters, sub-editors and feature writers who grew from this era to the top positions they are in today. I was one of them and today with deep gratitude I say “thank you, Sir” to my guru for the highly professional training and inspiring example he gave in moulding us into journalists who could see beyond selfish or limited consideration.

In the computer era he was the chief editor of the Chudamani, a tabloid with full colour and other modern techniques. There too I was proud and privileged to be associated with him as an assistant and indeed I continued to learn and draw inspiration from him.

This gentleman of the pen with ink in his veins was a brilliant thinker with a huge readership of his own. One of his popular column was written under the pen name ‘Thiru-gnaniyar” where he responded to readers’ questions on matters ranging from politics to entertainment. Indeed he had a deep and balanced grasp of issues in a multitude of fields. For S. T. Siva-nayagam journalism ran through his head and heart not only in the office but also at home. Like President Prem-adasa, he was known to get up early morning and read all the Tamil and English newspapers so that when he started work he would know all about what was happening everywhere. At editorial conferences he was balanced in his attitude and approach. Knowing most of the stories that had been published he would be critical of reporters for any stories they had missed or failed to follow up yet he was also generous in his praise for reporters who had got a good story or sub-editors who had done well in editing or giving headlines.

As we stood by his body I recall the wonderful days when S. T. Sivanayagam and his top editorial team built up the Dinapathi and the Chintamani into the largest selling newspapers. Inspired by the values and dynamism of D. B. Dhanapala, our guru, S. T. Siva-nayagam was to us a source of meaning, direction, drive , determinatition and dynamism. Amo-ng those on that team were Raja Ariyar-atnam who edited the Chintamani, hardw-orking deputy editor Ratnasingam, Chief sub-editor Kana-mayilnathan and features editor Yoga Balachandran. Mr. Sivanayagam also drew in top Tamil scholars including M. Kanap-athipillai, to contribute to mainstream journalism.

Though S.T.Siv-anayagam lived and died in journalism his four children took to other professions ranging from banking to hotel trade. Whenever we asked him why his children did not follow in his footsteps, the wise old man would give an understanding smile and tell his staff -“you journalists, you are my children”.

Thank you, Sir for being a guru and a father to me and so many others. K.T.Sivagurunathan –